Resources & Resourcefulness

Meaningful and ecologically sound design projects – promoting closed-loop systems


On this blog we use a five-tool framework to highlight the key considerations when designing and making products from waste materials. The tools can also be used by designers as guidelines to create meaningful and ecologically sound products.

Materials derived from waste can be obtained from a wide range of sources such as, industries, households, construction sites, etc. While some products and materials might be easy and safe to be reused, there are some that are not. It is therefore essential to find out how safe or toxic the chosen material is and how suitable for the intended end use.

The production process and scale of production are important in determining the purpose of the product and/ or its economic viability. The production can be done by hand, with mechanical tools, with electrical and/or with industrial machinery. Products can be one-off or produced in small or large batches. Understanding the impacts of various processes and selecting the appropriate mode of production is imperative. The design project can also be exploratory and for research purpose only.

Eco-credentials are the aspects of the design and production of a product that determine whether it is ecologically sound:
– Consider the amount and type of energy, water and toxic material that is used in both the making process and the use phase.
– Consider the amount of waste that is produced during the making process and during the use phase.
– How far do the materials and the designed product need to travel? Is it possible to work on a local level?
– Products can be designed to be recovered, reused or recycled after their useful life. When different materials are mixed, the product becomes harder to disassemble and recycle. It is important to determine whether the lifespan of the initial waste material is only being slightly extended or if the material can be recycled further.

Craftsmanship shows that the product is made in a skillful way and that materials are used appropriately according to the product’s function or purpose. Aspects like composition and colour should be considered well. Craftsmanship requires knowledge, training and hands-on experimentation. The quality and at times durability of the product depend on how well it is crafted.

Objects or materials can be reused for the metaphors, history, culture or other stories that are embedded in them. As a result the designed product can reflect this narrative, even though it might be placed in a different context. The process of making can add a story to the designed object as well. Narrative can be used to create a stronger relationship between the user and the product. These are all aspects that can make objects meaningful.


Download poster with tools (PDF)


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